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SEO – Is It a Dying Channel?

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SEO – Is It a Dying Channel?

I can see your eyes rolling already – “OMG NOT ANOTHER SEO IS DEAD ARTICLE!” – but bear with me for a moment.

For those that are not familiar, every year in the search industry there is a clickbait article about SEO being dead.

Then there are a proverbial hundred articles written to explain why SEO is not dead and round and round we go.

This has been going on as long as I have been in search and surely before and I have been in the industry since 2004.

So why would I be writing another article about the death of SEO?

Because this time the question of the death of is not being posed by some digital marketers looking for traffic and links, it is coming from site owners.

This is an important distinction and something that deserves attention.

The Decline of Organic

The idea that SEO is a dying channel is not completely without some small basis in fact.

In 2016 and 2017, there was a small but definitive downward trend in organic search across the board.

While these trends were not large enough to cause any great concern, if you were looking at the trendline you could see organic was down 2 percent between 2017 and 2016.

Given the number of searches in just Google organic online are in the trillions each year, 2 percent is not without significance.

From the Q1 & Q3 Merkle Report on Search

The share of site visits produced by organic search was 24 percent in Q4 2017, down 2 percent from the previous year

However, that trend changed in 2018 with the first two quarters coming in 2 percent larger and the 3rd quarter up 9 percent year over year, at least in Google.

Bing, Yahoo, and DuckDuckGo struggle to be competitive in this market. Though DuckDuckGo is on the rise, Bing and Yahoo are not.

According to Merkle:

“Despite recent headlines about the strong growth for DuckDuckGo, US organic search visit share for search engines beyond Google, Bing, and Yahoo fell from just 0.8% in Q3 2017 to 0.6% in Q3 2018.”

Even with the negative changes to Bing and Yahoo’s trendlines, Google owns 96 percent of the market, so organic is just as important as it always has been, actually more.

Organic Is NOT a Dying Channel

At this point, Google=Organic.

As long as Google Ads are driving the majority of their revenues, organic will be here to stay.

So not only is Google organic not a dying channel, as the data shows us it is actually growing. However, that growth is only going to likely increase.

But why?

Search Trends That Will Drive the Growth from Organic Results

There are some emerging search trends that will only make organic a more likely driver of traffic, not less.

Increasing Rise of Mobile

Google is so confident in the continued growth of the mobile space it is making the biggest change in its history and moving the factors it evaluates to rank a site from desktop to mobile – a.k.a., Mobile First. (If your site has not been moved to Mobile First yet, don’t worry, it will be sometime soon. At least most likely, by year’s end.)

Because mobile is only going to continue to grow and desktop is not going anywhere, people will be searching more, not less. That means continued growth for Google no matter what else happens.

If you have any doubts, see what The Boston Consulting Group found users would give up in order to keep their smartphones. Pretty telling, really:

What Would Consumers Give Up Instead of Their Smartphones

Google Search Page Design

As Google has shifted from an information, or search engine, to an answer engine, Google has made whole sale changes to its search engine result page (SERP) design.

While not all pages have been altered, many of the top traffic driving queries search results pages have been given an overhaul to make them friendlier to mobile users and micro-moment search.

Organic Is Not Just 10 Blue Links Anymore

Here is a just a sample of places a site can find itself outside of the standard “10 blue links.”

For instance, we have multiple new “search modules,” but all of them are driven by some degree by the value of your site’s organic search.

Want to be seen in these spaces? Your organic SEO must be up to par as your site’s organic value matters, in whole or in part, in your placements.

Some examples.

  • Knowledge Features
    • The One Box / Answer Box
    • The Knowledge Graph
    • People Also Ask
  • Carousel
    • News
    • Brand
    • Similar Locations
    • Similar Items
    • Videos
  • Map Features
    • Local Results
  • Rich Snippets
    • Reviews
    • Ratings
    • Featured (this can fall under multiple modules as the term is used loosely)

And these are not all of the modules available, so while the “10 blue links” are less visible on pages when search modules are present, all of these modules have an element of organic search to them.

Basically, part of how you show up in the additional modules is based on how well Google values your site organically – either in part or in whole.

Voice Search

Voice search is different than voice assistants, which we will discuss next.

While devices such as Google Home and Alexa use voice, it is not what we refer to as voice search. Voice search is a broader category that refers to the use of your voice to make a search query versus using your fingers.

While Google does add a lot of “search modules” to many query pages, there are many queries where it does not. These queries tend to fall under what we call “long-tail search.”

Long-tail search is when a user uses multiple words to create the search, rule of thumb is over 3 or 4, and since the average length of a voice query is 7 or 8 words it is much less likely to “match” other searches users have created because it is so specific to the users intent.

This means that these queries are also less likely to have integrated search modules that push down the “10 blue links.” They are even less likely to contain ads.

These pages are all about the 10 blue links.

So as people move more and more to voice-assisted search, your placement in the top 10 organic links on long-tail queries becomes much more important as we all know – almost no one goes to Page 2 of Google (or other search engines).

And you know who built their business on long-tail search? Amazon.

There is great value in the long tail. Don’t ignore it.

Voice Assistants

While Voice Assistants such as Google Home and Alexa are not highly valuable to sites providing only information (the site never sees a click).

Even though they are still in their infancy for sites in relevant verticals such as ecommerce, if your site is in a vertical like ecommerce you ignore voice assistants at your own risk.

The growth projection is similar to when smartphones hit the market and by 2022, OC&C Strategy Consultants projects it to be worth $40 billion in sales to the U.S. ecommerce sector alone.

Predicted Growth in the ecommerce Sector by 2022Predicted growth in the ecommerce sector by 2022

Why such growth, so quickly?

Devices, Devices, EVERYWHERE!

At CES this year, Google proclaimed that its voice assistant would be available on 1 billion (yes that is BILLION) devices by the end of January this year, and Amazon said they sold 100 MILLION voice assistants during the holiday season alone.

In less than a decade, almost every home in the U.S. will have a voice assistant in either the form of a device or on their phones

Another thing to remember is that though users may not be purchasing in large numbers yet, when users are not buying, they are doing research

And according to Google, users are interested in deals, sales, promotions, and business information.

“52 percent of voice-activated speaker owners would like to receive information about deals, sales, and promotions from brands. 39 percent would like to receive options to find business information.”

Voice Assistance Consumer Experience

So even though sales are not there yet, brand relationships are being built through Voice Assistants right now.

But how is this related to organic search?

No ’10 Blue Links’

Voice assistants do not have “10 blue links.” There is one answer. That answer either comes from your site or it doesn’t.

While organic search is not the only way sites can make themselves relevant to these devices, think Alexa Skills and Google Actions, it is an excellent channel for making sure that when Google uses the search results to provide an answer, that you are the site it uses.

For instance, a voice assistant search user wants to order a pizza. It can ask Google to give it a pizza place near them. There is going to be one answer and that answer, Dominos – Papa Johns – Pizza Hut will most likely come from the featured snippet or answer box on top of a search box page.

Even when it doesn’t if you have not organically optimized your site pages then you are not likely going to be that first result because those results are typically pulled from the top 10 organic listings.

So, if you are not optimized for both organic and voice, that business will not go to you, it will go to your competitor.

Organic Search is EXPANDING, Not DYING

John Franklin, Associate Partner, OC&C, commented:

“Voice commerce represents the next major disruption in the retail industry, and just as e-commerce and mobile commerce changed the retail landscape, shopping through smart speaker promises to do the same.

The speed with which consumers are adopting smart speakers will translate into a number of opportunities and even more challenges for traditional retailers and consumer products companies.”

So, we can see that even though the “10 Blue Links” are harder and harder to surface for many short tail queries, there are multiple opportunities to use organic to expand your search presence in other spaces and with other devices. The best part is many of those spaces are pretty empty right now.

It is estimated that by 2020, 50 percent of the searches online will be hands-free. Anyone with an online presence would be foolish to ignore those numbers. According to a report from TheStreet:

“In two years, voice shopping, or v-commerce, could be as popular as mobile shopping is today, according to recent survey data from MoffettNathanson. So far, less than 5 percent of consumers use voice shopping, but that number could reach 50 percent by 2022, the report found.

“The growth curve of voice shopping looks a lot like the trajectory of mobile commerce seven years ago,” when less than 10 percent of American consumers made purchases on their cellphones, MoffettNathanson’s Greg Melich told TheStreet on Thursday, April 5. “If you’re a retailer and you’re not preparing for this significant trend of e-commerce going toward v-commerce, then you won’t be around.”

And it is also important to mention that there are many queries in Google that still only contain “10 Blue Links”. As users use voice to search, those queries become more relevant, because they are long – not short-tail.

So, the next time someone says organic search is a dying channel just let them move on, while you clean-up on the billions of activated devices out there poised to give someone their money and their time.

As they say, always skate to the where the puck is going.

And remember:

SEO is still NOT dead!

More Resources:


Image Credits

All screenshots taken by author, January 2019

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Kristine Schachinger

Kristine Schachinger has more than two decades experience in the creation, development, implementation and maintenance of websites in all areas ... [Read full bio]

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